I’ve been reading a number of books on crime, psychology and forensics recently. Pat Brown wrote an excellent introduction to Criminal Profiling (not for the faint hearted). Maria Konnikova wrote an engaging dissertation on How to think like Sherlock. Jon Ronson wrote an absolutely hilarious book about the Psychopath test (developed by Bob Hare)… and this week I’ve been digging into David Canter’s very short introduction to Forensic Psychology. He shares an interesting case study about a pair of criminals in jail (more on this shortly).
That’s my off-line, sitting in the car, waiting for a late call reading. What can I say, I’ve been mentoring a female psychologist whose career has taken her through the criminal justice system… and I’m more than a bit curious about her work environment. In any case these fields overlap at some frequency with my own work as a coach. Let me share an example.
People turn up for coaching and some of them are playing the blame game – it’s not my fault, the system is against me, it was bad parenting. It’s the basic “nurture” position. Then there are others who say it’s their genes, their disposition, their base character or just the way they are made (in its highest form this is moralism and religion). These are forms of the “nature” position. Coaching asks a person to take their upbringing and, accepting their baseline, make plans to go from there. Back to David Canter… who compares two criminals sitting in the same cell.
Each criminal ended up in that jail because they took a journey, they walked out a story. Each one came from a particular context: a family, a group of friends, opportunities they had, society and a certain culture. One of them was a “one off” murderer who led an innocent and upright life, until one day he killed his wife in an act of violent anger. The other is a murderer who grew up impoverished, hung out with people who committed burglary, stole at the age of ten and eventually killed a shop keeper as part of a robbery-gone-wrong. Ostensibly they both did the same crime and they’re doing the same time, in the same cell… but I’m sure you can see that they are nothing alike.
Canter’s conclusion is this, “The difference between them will be revealed most clearly in what they think of themselves, the inner narrative they have developed to give meaning and direction to their actions.” I would also add that each of these murderers have a choice to make with what to do next. Their narrative – drawn out by a coach through making the client aware of self talk – will be very revealing. If you’d like a great tool to help work through this – click here for a free worksheet.